Getting better with every mile of the journey
For JAMIE CRESPO ’12, completing the renowned New York City Marathon didn’t become entirely real until the sign for Central Park came into view. By that point, she had run across all five boroughs of the city and had less than two miles to go.
Jamie typically listened to a playlist during workouts, but on the day of the New York City Marathon, she largely zoned out for the first 24 miles. As she neared the finish line, myriad emotions surfaced, and tears filled her eyes. “I was thinking about my parents and everybody who supported me, because it had taken a long time to get to where I was,” she said.
For one thing, the New York City Marathon’s 50th anniversary event fell in 2020 — and, like so many other events of that year, it had to be postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
After months of ardent training, preparation, and fundraising, Jamie patiently waited another year for the opportunity to come to fruition. When she and a handful of friends finally made it to the race in November 2021, she was more than ready to complete the race — and with a finishing time of 5:06:21, she did just that.
Although Jamie initially entered into the world of running in 2015, the hobby took a pivotal turn two years later.
Early in 2017, she noticed her father, Juanito, was inexplicably losing weight. Jamie, who works at an outpatient surgery unit for Kaiser Permanente in Washington, knew that sudden weight loss combined with a pale complexion and a couple of fainting spells could be pointing to something serious.
She prompted her father to go to the doctor for a checkup. Initial tests revealed that he was anemic. Further tests indicated he had Stage 3 colon cancer. After an invasive surgery, he had to undergo nine rounds of chemotherapy.
When Jamie reflects on that time for her father, the word that comes to mind is “strength.”
“He had that spirit of ‘I’m going to beat this,’” Jamie said.
Juanito was still undergoing cancer treatments when, just a few months later, Jamie’s mother, Emmie, went in for a routine colonoscopy. The family was shocked when the colonoscopy revealed the same diagnosis: cancer.
“My daughter is the one who kept us going during the toughest time of our life.” — Emmie Crespo
The colonoscopy, however, had caught the cancer early at Stage 1. Emmie’s early diagnosis meant she could opt for a far less-invasive laparoscopic colectomy.
Jamie, an only child, took leave from her job in order to care for her parents. She remained at her mom’s bedside during her weeklong hospital stay, while her dad recovered from cycles of chemotherapy.
“[Jamie] was always there when we needed her,” her mom said. “My daughter is the one who kept us going during the toughest time of our life.”
Jamie is no stranger to the role of caregiver. Her job is to be with people before they head into the operating room. She takes vitals and assists nurses with necessary tasks, but her favorite aspect of the job is the interactions she has with patients.
“If they’re nervous, I can help calm them down. I can talk about anything from the Seahawks to traveling,” said Jamie, who studied applied human biology with a minor in psychology at SPU.
But sometimes the caregiver needs self-care as well. In addition to the support of friends and family, the thing that kept Jamie going that year was heading out and hitting the pavement — literally. Running proved to be the perfect form of stress relief as she coped with her parents’ cancer.
In the midst of her parents’ cancer treatments and recovery, Jamie ran with a goal in mind: complete the San Diego Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon. She gave herself six months to train.
“Running isn’t just a physical act. It takes a lot of mental fortitude and commitment,” said Rediet Mulugeta ’12, Jamie’s former roommate at SPU. “Jamie’s commitment to running has grown over the last couple of years, and I know running was a gift [to herself] in that season when her family faced many uncertainties.”
Jamie’s parents encouraged her to keep her sights set on her goal, and, in June 2017, Jamie completed her first marathon in San Diego, California. The next year, she completed the Orange County Marathon in California before turning her sights to New York, one of six World Marathon Major races.
Jamie wanted her marathon runs to help others avoid the crisis her family endured, so she ran the New York City Marathon for the Colon Cancer Foundation, raising $3,200 for colon cancer prevention and early detection.
After New York, Jamie applied to become one of the first Colorectal Champions Ambassadors for the foundation. Ambassadors are cancer survivors or family members of survivors who are willing to be spokespeople for colorectal cancer.
Jamie was ultimately selected to be an ambassador for the foundation and spent the entirety of March — Colon Cancer Awareness Month — educating people about the importance of screening for colon cancer at an earlier age. (The American Cancer Society’s newest guidelines recommend colorectal cancer screenings begin at age 45 instead of their previous guidelines to start screening at age 50.)
That same month, Jamie also traveled to Northern California to run the Oakland Marathon. In October, she’ll make her way to Chicago to check off a second Abbott World Marathon Major, leaving her with only four more to go — Boston, London, Berlin, and Tokyo — if she decides to seek the famed Six Star Medal.
Today, both of Jamie’s parents are in remission, and they are immensely grateful for their daughter’s love and care during their respective battles with cancer.
“Jamie gave us encouragement to live and get better,” Jamie’s mother said. “We beat cancer because we want to be there for every accomplishment in her life.”